By Charlene Baldridge
“You’re a bit of a lump,” says Rosemary Muldoon to Anthony Reilly. The two, middle-aged now, have lived on adjoining cattle and sheep ranches outside Mullingar, Ireland, since childhood. In fact, Anthony toppled Rosemary on the playground one day when they were 7 — he doesn’t remember — and family lore has it that she has hated him ever since. Hated him so much in fact, that she persuaded her doting father, back in the day, to give her the right of way strip on the property Anthony will inherit.
When John Patrick Shanley’s 2014 Broadway play “Outside Mullingar” opens (directed by Associate Artistic Director Todd Salovey, the play has been extended until Feb. 21 at San Diego Repertory Theatre) Rosemary’s father has died. There’s been a funeral and what’s left of the Muldoons and Reillys meet, as neighbors do, to pick over the past and prognosticate the future. Present are Rosemary’s admirably stubborn mother, the just widowed Aiofe (Ellen Crawford), and Anthony’s beyond-irascible father, Tony (Mike Genovese).
While Rosemary (Carla Harting) stands outside in the rain so she can smoke (she claims to like cigarettes better than people), Tony proposes leaving the ranch to Anthony’s American cousin. While Aiofe stands up for Anthony (Manny Fernandes), and Anthony attempts to bring Rosemary inside, we receive the backstory from the elders.
As it turns out, there is much more to it than they know. The ensuing scenes, a year later and four years later, reveal the truth and the depth of Rosemary and Anthony’s feelings. She is a seething kettle of passion, and he, as she says, an inept lump. The two are fascinating receptacles of repressed longings and unspoken truth, as well as victims of the hard environment and parental insensitivity.
In addition to his pitch-perfect company, Salovey gathers a terrific design team for “Outside Mullingar.” Giulio Perrone’s scenic design morphs into three distinct cottages replete with kitchen appliances and sitting areas. It also suggests porches, barns and fields. Sherrice Mojgani’s lighting design evokes the landscape, and Anastasia Pautova’s costumes, the sort of every day and dress-up wear that church-going people close to the land affect. David Scott’s sound design and the three-piece Irish band (Jim Mooney, Alicia Previn and Richard Tibbits) add much color.
I can’t imagine a better company or more sensitive direction. All the actors are sublimely enmeshed in their imperfect, cantankerous, yet loveable characters. None goes too far. This is an absolutely delicious production. The reconciliation scene between Tony and Anthony is one of the best father-son scenes ever witnessed, and the working out of the younger couple’s long denied truth is both hilarious and heartbreaking.
Due to the magic of Shanley’s poetry and the music of his language, we care so much we dread the denouement. I felt much the same about Shanley’s Italian family in the film, “Moonstruck.” Now, he’s returned to his own, Irish roots. His description of how that felt is reprinted in the Rep’s program from an article Shanley wrote in The New York Times.
— Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenebaldridge.com or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.